One of the great joys of working for Swallow Hill Music is that I get exposed to many artists that are new to me. On top of that, I often learn these artists were hiding in plain sight all along in that they were closely aligned with musicians I already hold near and dear.
Discovering a Peter Mulvey or a Jesca Hoop deep into their established but vital careers is like opening a treasure chest I can lose myself in for months.
I never heard of Laura Marling until this winter when Swallow Hill booked her to play the First Baptist Church on April 21. In preparing for the concert, I learned Laura boasts a career’s worth of great albums, including the just-released Song For Our Daughter.
I also learned she grew out of the same West London “nu-folk” movement of the mid to late 2000s that gave birth to Mumford & Sons and Noah and the Whale. Songs like her tale of hard-earned self-knowledge, “Rambling Man,” relationship sketches like “Sophia,” or the cathartic “All My Rage,” quickly dominated my Spotify playlists. My excitement for the concert grew with each song I learned.
When Swallow Hill closed its doors in mid-March, we also went about the necessary task of canceling and rescheduling our concerts. It came as no surprise when we canceled her show. Among all the momentous changes, tough days, and heartbreaking news related to COVID-19, canceling Laura’s concert amounted to a tiny dagger, but a dagger nonetheless. As John Craigie sings, “they call them first world problems, but they still break your heart.”
Daily life shifted. We collectively kept our distance from each other. We moved our lives online. We fretted over our collective and personal health, and financial and societal well-being. We mourned the loss of loved ones. We howled each evening at eight. With no script, we all made it up, and we continue to make it up.
For all that we left behind, we also took a lot from our past lives with us. For me, that included the newly-found songs of Laura Marling.
A week or so ago I took a deep YouTube dive of her live performances. One of them stuck with me in particular. It’s of Laura performing “Ghosts” in 2008 at a church with members of Mumford & Sons as her backing band.
The song tells the tale of “two lovers crying on each other’s shoulder.” The stark punchline to the chorus is “It’s not like I believe in everlasting love.” Though it deals with personal loss, and was written in what is now an entirely different era, the plight of it’s haunted, grief-stricken characters still resonates, making the song timeless and timely.
This is where the magic of music steps in.
As I watched the performance on my laptop from my couch, I started to imagine myself watching from the balcony of that unidentified church in 2008. Something shifted as the song unfolded, though, and my mind moved me and the performance to the First Baptist Church, site of Laura’s canceled Denver concert. It all felt very real, and the song ended with me holding newly carved memories of a concert I never attended, and one that will likely never happen.
I sat back and pondered this, and it occurred to me that I cannot be the only person experiencing something like this during our period of self-isolation. And that demonstrates the power of music: it can offer our daily lives something transcendent, it can transport us from the mundane to the sublime, and it can bend time to collapse distance and soothe us in our time of isolation.
It’s a lesson I will happily learn again and again.
Barry Osborne is the Associate Marketing Director at Swallow Hill Music. He started taking banjo lessons at Swallow Hill ten years ago, and joined the staff nearly five years later.